CAS SEE Seminars with Guests: Ivan Rajković

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Equivalences of Life: Three Ecopopulist Lessons for the Balkan Left

Ivan Rajković is a social anthropologist studying labor, morality, and political ecology in Southeast Europe. Before arriving at the University of Vienna, Rajković has finished his PhD in social anthropology at the University of Manchester (2015) and held postdoctoral positions in UCL and Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. Previously, he has focused on the moralization of work, giving, and debt among the superfluous workers of an ex-Yugoslav car factory (Zastava). His new project explores the shift from work to ‘nature’ as the basis of new political alliances in Serbia and, more broadly, in the Balkans, particularly through a focus on ‘ecopopulist’ universality forged through resistance to hydropower and lithium extraction.

On Friday, April 1st at 12 pm CET, we hosted the CAS SEE Seminar with Ivan Rajković, presented by our Fellow Katarina Kušić.

This talk zooms in on the struggles over land and rivers in Serbia to reflect on three wider tensions at the heart of the Balkans’ ecopolitics, and three ecopopulist lessons for the regional Left. The first is green grabbing, that is, the tension between commoning and privatization that structures all levels of environmental action – including the resistance itself. The Left is weak when it speaks about the dispossession only: to turn energy transition into a material force, it must articulate all forms of emerging class gains. The second is the struggle over ecological debt, that is, the way debts to multinational capital are contested with debts to ancestors, who are seen as having died to liberate the land. The Left is alienated when it speaks in the name of descendants only: to connect itself with the anticolonial traditions of the oppressed, it must acknowledge all circles of generational sacrifice to which it owes life in the first place. The third is the national moral economy, that is, a populist bargain between the rulers and the ruled which might conceal another key social antagonism at play: that between the landed and the landless. To really stop the impending expropriations, the Left cannot shy away from the question of how to redistribute the land. But the real reason why ecopopulism is so appealing and yet so thorny, I argue, is because it asks an entirely new question: how to account for the changes of life itself.

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